Monday, May 28, 2012

Dating Jesus

Susan Campbell, writer extraordinaire.

Who is Susan Campbell? Well, if you live in Connecticut, you might know her as a columnist at the Hartford Courant. Or, if you grew up in the Church of Christ, you might have heard of her book—Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl.

But … I used to live in CT, and I was raised in the CofC, and I had never heard of Susan Campbell until someone posted a comment about her on a blog (not mine … there are a few others out there). The comment piqued my interest, so I bought Susan’s book, and I emailed her. (I’m not sure if it was in that exact order.) And the conversation began...

Here’s some stuff you might like to know about Susan:

  • She’s smart as all get out.
  • She’s interesting, and she has interesting stories to tell.
  • She’s a prolific writer. (Just try keeping up with her blog for a few days … not to mention Twitter, when she gets on a roll.)
  • She’s a truth-teller.
  • And, possibly the most impressive thing … she is the former Bible Bowl champion of Green Valley Bible Camp in Rogers, Ark. (Now I know I have your attention.)
  • She’s funny too. Or too funny. However you’d like to say it.

So Susan and I have exchanged a few emails and Facebook messages, and I finally twisted her arm for a blog interview. And luckily, I caught her at home on a day after knee surgery, so that she was a little bit woozy and ready to spill the beans.

This week, I’ll highlight a little bit of Susan’s book and our phone conversation. Let’s consider this part 1 of an I-don’t-know-how-many-parts series.

If you’re interested in checking out Dating Jesus sometime, it is very very good. In the narrative, Susan tells a part of her story, about growing up in a small-town CofC and about her spiritual journey later on. Throughout, she weaves in some of the history of feminism and “fundamentalism.” If you were/are a part of the CofC, there’s plenty of lingo and stories that will likely resonate … but there are also some more progressive thoughts that you (and I) might not always be comfortable with. Personally, I think the uncomfortability is a positive thing. It makes us think. Examine. Maybe even change our perspective a little bit?


And now, on to the interview … (part one … a paraphrased version):

How the book came about …

Susan: I didn’t start out to write a book. I started out writing essays at Hartford Seminary, where I was a student. The essays led to the book.

At the seminary, I was exotic, because I was a fundamentalist Christian. They loved me because I could give them a different perspective. [Fundamentalists] are not big scary right-wing nut-jobs that you see so often in the media. There’s a broad spectrum there, which includes the nut-jobs.

I wanted to be able to talk about the love that I felt in the church of Christ and the support I felt there. There was condemnation there also, but I didn’t want to be making fun of [those] Christians. I’m very careful when I’m giving speeches or talking about the book, because I still identify myself [as fundamentalist]. There’s something there, in my DNA … even though I would not be accepted in my own home church.

On growing up in the Church of Christ (in Missouri) …

Susan: For me, for all of the good I got out of the church of Christ—and I can’t even count all of the good I got out of the church of Christ—there were some bugaboos there for me. Things like the role of women and the exclusivity of the theology that made me so sad.

For example, my friend Alan is Catholic, and I’m supposed to believe he’s not going to heaven? But I know he’s so sincere. And what about those children in Africa that I’m not going to get to? They’re not going to heaven?

I came from a fairly hard-shelled church of Christ. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for discussion there. We would not have accepted people on the more progressive end of the gamut. If there was even a [congregation that discussed] women leading songs on Wednesday night, we would have dismissed that church as not “church of Christ.” I mean we were really hard core.

On the humor and sadness of the book …

Susan: I think all humor is grounded somewhat in disappointment. It’s funny, and you’re laughing, but you’re kind of wincing at the same time. It’s like watching Carol Burnett. I can sit here and laugh at her, but I also know there’s an emptiness that she’s filling. There is something in her that’s lacking.

I still give speeches about the book here [in Connecticut], which is kind of weird because it’s not a new book. People will laugh, and it is kind of funny, but I’m thinking sometimes, “This is not funny.”

Yes, I think there’s sadness there, because ultimately it’s about my disappointment.

A few words about Bible class …

Susan: I told my brothers, “You can’t do your Sunday school lessons in the car on the way to church.” They did it anyway, but I did not. I’d sit down—I’m a geek—and fill out all of the blanks. I’d draw pictures to illustrate my points. I’d remember verses that supported what I was saying.

And so to me, reading the Bible with a child’s eye, I would sometimes come away with a different message than what was being taught. I respected the adults, and yet I was coming up with a different message at times, and that was scary to me. I just assumed that I was wrong, because they were the grown-ups. As I got older, and went back to these verses again, I thought this might not be exactly what they were telling me.

There was a lot of good theology there, though. In Sunday school, I learned to look out for people who had less than me. I didn’t learn that anywhere else, and that’s a great theology.

On people who might disagree with her …

Susan: As long as it gets a conversation going, I’m actually okay if someone hates my insides … as long as we’re talking.


Susan mentions a favorite song in her book, and we shall conclude (for today) with this:

“I drew for my inspiration [for doing good deeds] on a really great rousing hymn with a strong bass part: ‘A Beautiful Life,’ that includes the words, ‘Each day I’ll do a golden deed by helping those who are in need. My life on earth is but a span and so I’ll do (and so I’ll do) the best I can (the best I can).’”


  1. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to your next post.

  2. Can't wait to read the rest! I read Susan Campbell's book about 3-4 years ago and have been following her around the Interwebs and The Hartford Courant since then. It's about time someone turned the tables and interviewed her!

  3. Thanks, Jim!

    Sharon, as you might imagine, Susan's a very enjoyable person to talk to.